Elite Center Who is Interested in Vikings Left in the Dark, Insider Says

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Courtesy of Vikings The Vikings could be without Harrison Smith on Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell openly declared a competition at center, yet the Vikings appear uninterested in bringing in a more talented challenger to Garrett Bradbury.

In an August 6 press conference, O’Connell, acknowledging Bradbury’s struggles in pass protection, said there’s “absolutely” a competition for the starting spot in front of Kirk Cousins.

However, with a perennial top-10 center still wavering in free agency who has expressed past interest in the Vikings, Minnesota has left him in the dark, according to a recent report.

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‘Crickets’ on the J.C. Tretter Front

Minnesota Vikings training camp notes: 'Competition' at center for Garrett BradburyJudd's Minnesota Vikings training camp notes include an update on Garrett Bradbury, who is now involved in a "competition" at center. Problem is, the Vikings don't have any great backup options right now. Also, Mackey & Judd dive into the latest on Kene Nwangwu, Greg Joseph and more. Subscribe to our channel for more Vikings…2022-08-07T18:41:16Z

On an August 7 episode of the Purple Daily podcast, SKOR North’s Phil Mackey, who previously reported that former Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter had the Vikings on his “short list” of teams he’d sign with, said it’s been crickets on the Tretter front.

“The problem with Tretter is he’s got banged-up knees and he barely practiced last season with the Browns. He doesn’t really miss games, but he barely practiced. Kwesi was with the Browns, if anybody knows Tretter, it’s Kwesi. I have been told it’s crickets on that front,” Mackey said. “Not only from on the Vikings side, the Vikings have not reached out to JC Tretter or his agent. The Buccaneers (whose starting center suffered a serious knee injury) haven’t either.

“To not even give him a workout and a physical seems odd,” Mackey added.

Tretter has ranked among the top-10 centers by Pro Football Focus (PFF) in each of the past four seasons. He posted the second-best pass-blocking grade (83.7) among all NFL centers last season and has ranked inside the top-five pass-blocking centers every season since 2018. He’s also no shlub in the run game, helping the Browns post the highest yards per run average (5.1) last season.

While Tretter, 31, has plenty of tread on his tires, he’s remained one of the most consistent competitors at his position.

“There are still several impact free agents available… but Tretter comes in near the top of the list,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote in May, ranking Tretter the fifth-best center in the league entering the 2022 season. “Across Tretter’s five seasons in Cleveland, few centers were more durable or more reliable in pass protection. His 5,298 regular-season snaps played at center since 2017 fall behind only Jason Kelce and Ryan Jensen, and no center earned a higher grade in pass protection (90.6) over that stretch.

Any team with a question mark in the middle of their offensive line would be wise to bring Tretter in soon,” Linsey added.

While Tretter remains unsigned, the Vikings have been giving former Indianapolis Colts guard Chris Reed, who signed with Minnesota in the offseason, a look at center — a transition O’Connell is comfortable that Reed can make.

“Luckily, a lot of the communication between that guard spot and center goes hand in hand, a lot of those combinations whether you’re working with the center or away from the center in protection. I think there’s some carryover in our system, but still, there’s nothing like having to be the guy to making the calls,” O’Connell said. “Where he’s at right now, I think he’s able to handle it as a veteran player. He’s played enough football to be able to make that transition. I don’t worry at all about the mental side, it’s just the physical nature of having to deal with being the starting point to every play while also having a critical role in our communication.”

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O’Connell Gives Honest Assessment of Bradbury

Garrett Bradbury

Courtesy of VikingsThe Vikings declined to exercise center Garrett Bradbury’s fifth-year option with the May 2 deadline expired.

While O’Connell kept the pressure on Bradbury to up his performance in training camp, he had plenty of positives for the former first-round pick after the Vikings opted to decline his fifth-year option in March.

“Garrett’s been really good in the run game. He’s shown a real understanding of the scheme. We do a lot of different things in the run game that sometimes looks like a lot, but as long as a center gets us dialed in and targeted the right way everybody else all other 10 guys can be on the same page, and he’s done a great job with that.”

O’Connell mostly downplayed Bradbury’s struggles in pass protection.

“Obviously in pass pro, he’s had some real moments of some strong performances, and then there’s been some other ones where, listen, Mike Pettine and Ed Donatell and Mike Smith know how to isolate people just like all the great coaches in this league do. That’s where we’re challenging him every time, ‘Technique, technique.’ He’s got a good anchor when he’s got his feet underneath him. He shows power in the run game, so we’re really finding ways to try to simulate those tough downs.”

Acknowledging that opposing defenses will try to key their pressure on weak spots on the offensive front, O’Connell broke down how the offense will attempt to alleviate the pressure across the front, ultimately putting the burden on Cousins to understand what he’s facing each down. O’Connell pointed to a play from an August 5 practice where Cousins audibled Dalvin Cook into pass protection when the defense disguised pressure and left itself open over the top. Cousins connected with Osborn for a quick-strike touchdown.

“The tough downs got to go somewhere. We acknowledge when a guy handles the tough down well because those are winning plays, plays that go a long way for your offense. Whether that’s trying to buy some help with one of the guards but that does put it on your tackle sometimes against premier guys on the edge. We can help the tackle with different tools on the edge but what does that do from the [running] back’s eye progression to be able to pick up pressures from the nickel or the safety or the corner, asking these guys to do more,” O’Connell said. “The tough down, more often than not, you can see a lot of those losses upfront that contribute to negative plays but the tough down falls on the quarterback quite a bit. To play with that rhythm, the timing, to be able to speed it up, of being able to make it right. When we’re at our best, there’s going to be two, three, four plays a game — Kirk’s already shown throughout training camp to be able to do that.”

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